TikTok has become something of a sensation recently. The fun, short-form mobile video app has quickly built a massive community of creators and viewers thanks to its easy-to-use but powerful features. In fact, TikTok says that in 2018 it was one of the most downloaded apps in the world across both iOS and Android.

So, if you want to get to grips with how it all works, here’s a guide to the basics of TikTok. If you're researching the app because your kids are asking if they can install it, read our separate guide to find out whether it's safe for children to use.

How to get the TikTok app

Before you can begin, there’s the simple matter of downloading the app and creating a free account. Go to the relevant app store for your device, search for TikTok, then install it. Once that’s done, launch TikTok and tap the Sign Up with Phone or Email button to create an account.  With that completed you’ll now be taken to the Home screen where the latest video will begin playing. To pause it, just tap the main part of the screen once.

how to use TikTok

The interface should be familiar if you’ve used any social media app before. Along the bottom of the screen are the navigation buttons, which line up as follows; Home, Discover, Create (the ‘+’ sign), Inbox, and Me.

how to use tiktok

Down the right-hand side of the screen there’s also a row of icons, top of which is the option to subscribe to the creator of the video currently playing. Under this are the Heart icon (for videos you like), Comment, Share, and the lowest icon shows which music track is being used in the video. This is more important than you might think, as TikTok users often make variations on challenges using the same song as backing.

how to use tiktok

For instance, at the time of writing one of the most popular challenges or hashtags was for The GIT Up by Blanco Brown, which involves an amusing dance routine that creators stage in a range of locations – schools, kitchens, supermarkets, radio stations and the like. If you click on the song icon then you’ll be presented with a collection of videos featuring it, so you can enjoy the fun, plus if you want to join in then you’ll know which song to use.

To scroll through the videos simply swipe up or down. Swiping to the left will also open the profile page for the video currently playing. Tapping the Discover button will open up collections of popular videos, grouped by hashtags. Of course, there’s also the search bar at the top of the screen, which you can use to find creators or videos by subject or tags.

how to use tiktok

Inbox is where you’ll receive messages sent by other users, and the Me option shows you your personal profile where you can change your avatar, check on your stats, and also see all of the videos you’ve favourited.

The last control is the Create button at the centre of the bottom row. Tap this and you’ll be able to make your first video.

How do you make a TikTok video?

Creating a video is quick and easy on TikTok, although learning how to get the most out of the various editing features is something that will take practice. One thing to bear in mind is that removing edits is harder to do once you’ve added another one afterwards, so be sure that each section is to your satisfaction before moving onto another one.

The main thing to know is that the video only records when the red button is held down, so if you want to switch between scenes, just let go of the button, move to the next bit, then press and hold it once more.

Zooming in and out is done by sliding the red button up the screen (zoom in) then back down (zoom out) remembering to keep it pressed at all time if you want to capture the action. On the main screen you’ll see a number of options available, including the setting beneath the record button for either 60 second or 15 second recording time. There’s also a choice of playback speed, which can help if you want to make comedy videos with speeded-up action or slo-mo. There are also settings for flipping the camera around, timers so you can get in position, filters, and a few other useful effects.

how to use tiktok

To add music, which can be done before or after you’ve captured footage, tap the Add a Sound text on the main screen  and work your way through the various options. Each can be previewed before selection, so when you find the one you want, tap the red button to the right of its name.

Now you can tap the Trim button at the top of the page and move the song along using the slider bar at the bottom of the screen until you find the place where it best matches the video. When you’re happy with the alignment, tap Save.

Back on the main screen, tap the Effects icon and you’ll be able to add a few fancy visuals to the video. You’ll see a number of options appear at the bottom of the screen: Visual, Sticker, Trans, Split, Time Effect.

Each of these can be applied to the video by either tapping and holding them or tapping the relevant icon. The difference is how long the effect will last. Some, such as Visual, allow you to set a custom duration by holding down the button until you’re happy, whereas Trans (transistions) only last a specific time so you’ll need to tap the button when you want the effect to appear.  

how to use TikTok

You can also add captions to your video by tapping the Text option. In here you can type out the words you want to use, change the font, background, alignment, and colour. When you’re happy, tap Done, then tap on the text to open another editing window where you can move it to anywhere on the screen, change its size and angle, plus if you tap the clock icon in the top right of the text box you can decide when it is displayed and for how long.

Posting and sharing your video

If you’ve put the finishing touches to your video and want to share it with the world, then it only takes a few taps. 

On the editing screen you’ve been using you’ll see the Next option in the bottom right of the screen. Tap this and you’ll be taken to the Post screen. Here you can enter hashtags (good idea if you want people to find it and for TikTok to include it in the Discovery collections) plus the names of any friends you think would enjoy your creative endeavours.

TikTok gives you to option to turn off comments, set who can see the video, plus a rather more mysterious option for Duet/React. These are videos that include your original footage but where other users can either have a picture in picture recording of themselves reacting to what you’ve created (React) or split-screen where they film themselves alongside your video. For your first few efforts it’s probably best to turn this off, at least until you’re confident with what you’re doing.

how to use tiktok

Should you think the video needs a bit of work, you can always tap the Drafts button to store it for later. Otherwise tap Post and your TikTok fame can begin.